Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of visiting Vanuatu will know exactly what I am talking about when I say that the people make the experience unforgettable. In our experience Ni-Vanuatu people are warm, friendly, hard-working, family-oriented, great with kids & have a happy-go-lucky attitude that is positively infectious! It is fair to say that Vanuatu is a relaxed island paradise but even paradise is no good if the locals aren’t that welcoming. This is not a problem that you will ever find in Vanuatu & you may even come away with a whole new Ni Vanuatu Family to call your own. I am lucky to say that my Aussie family has a Ni-Vanuatu Family who live in Erakor Village, Just up the hill from Erakor Lagoon in Port Vila.

We first met the Patriarch of this family way back in 2012 on our very first South Pacific family jaunt. We were a little nervous to be taking our small kids off Australian soil for the first time & really not sure what to expect. We decided to start off in the relative safety of a big resort, but soon realised we wanted to get out amongst it & meet the locals. Each morning we would watch a man on an outrigger canoe spear fishing in the lagoon & decided to have a chat to him about life on the lagoon. Unfortunately after we plucked up the courage & waved hello, we realised there was going to be a slight language barrier. That didn’t stop him or us & we all introduced ourselves to a man we now affectionately call Uncle Freddy.

That afternoon he took us for a trek up the hill & into his village, showing us proudly his home, beautiful tropical garden & many local fruit trees which the kids enjoyed snacking on. We met his wife Maryanne & as is normal in any Ni-Van family we met scores of kids, grandkids, cousins, neighbours, dogs & chickens. The following day one of freddy’s nephews paddled over on the canoe to take our then 13 year old son for an adventure. We thought he was just going for a little paddle around but they were soon out of site, an hour later, I was starting to panic slightly! Just then they reappeared with a bag full of tropical fruit & ear to ear grins. Turns out they had paddled up to some local net fisherman & helped them pull in their nets, then they headed to the French-speaking local school, where they played soccer with the kids before finally stopping off to pick the most delicious guavas, coconuts, grapefruit & bananas to bring back to our little girl.

Since that first trip we have been back time & time again, different times of year, for different lengths of time & to all different islands, the only consistent part of each itinerary is always a catch up with our adopted family. We have been taken to village kava bars & even a church fundraising night with a DJ & sausage sizzle in the middle of a paddock, we were the only non-locals & it was one of the best nights we have had as a family. There have been some scary moments together, like the rainy day we tried to get up an almost totally vertical hill in Thomas’s (Freddy’s son) old van & started loosing traction & rolling back down towards a cliff, needless to say I don’t think any of us have ever moved so quickly to get the kids out of the van & to safety. We have been pulled over by military police with guns for being in a slightly unregistered van & had to buy a month worth of takeaway lunches to encourage our way out of that situation! We have definitely had some touching moments as well, like the time we visited the big-hearted teacher Olivia, Thomas’s wife. She, Thomas & their 5 kids were sharing a 2 room hut but Olivia saw that there were too many kids at the village school for everyone to get a good education so she turned one of her tiny rooms into a classroom for 28 kids. These lucky kids now have a chance at a better education & in turn a brighter future, all thanks to this selfless lady & her family, despite how little they have they give freely to all they can.

Several years ago, action movie star Jackie Chan flew in to Port Vila on his way through to film a new movie on Tanna Island. We just happened to be in town when Freddy & Thomas heard on the radio that the star was touching down, so they picked us up & we made a mad dash (along with half of Vanuatu) to the airport for our chance to meet a real life Hollywood celebrity. Sure enough Jackie popped out to greet his Port Vila fans, it was such a funny moment & the atmosphere was like a carnival. The locals passed my kids through the crowd & down the front so that they could have a good clear view of the tiny action star, it was certainly a moment no one expected but we were all buzzing & starstruck for the rest of the day.

Sitting at home watching the media coverage when Cyclone Pam hit in March of this year, our first worried thoughts were of our Erakor family. That night none of us slept very well but we had to wait several weeks until we were back in Vanuatu to check on them. They had no idea that we were coming & when we finally found Freddy & the family, the looks on their faces were truly priceless! We were overjoyed to find that their homes had been spared & even the gardens were largely intact, they were some of the lucky ones.

I know that our love for Vanuatu would not be the same if we hadn’t found such a strong connection with its people. I would really recommend any traveller to get out & about & meet the locals. They are a beautiful, caring nation of people & your experience & life will be all the richer for it. I was given a traditional Ni-Van dress to take home with me & although it’s not the most flattering style to wear out & about, it hangs on a special hook in my cupboard so that each morning, when I am getting ready to face the daily grind, I can look at the tropical fabric & the bright colours on my dress, close my eyes & dream of being back with our Erakor family.

If you like what you see please feel free to share.